Stressing Around the Craig Sgurrs, Glen Carron

26 04 2011

Wed 20 April 2011

For some reason, I’ve always been stressed about the two Craig Sgurrs, Choinnich and Chaorachain and was seriously considering putting them off on this, my last day in Glen Carron, and just having a lovely day off driving to Kishorn and suchlike. However, the forecast was good and the day dawned bright and beautiful. I didn’t really see how I could justify a day off in such good weather, especially as all my previous trips to Glen Carron the weather has been pretty bad. So there was nothing for it – I had to bag my last two Glen Carron Munros today!

I drove up to Craig and parked in the forestry carpark, patted the Polo, told it I’d be hours and set off in trepidation. My basic plan was to follow the normal forest track up to Pollan Buidhe and then see whether I fancied the route up the corrie to the col between the two Munros. That way I would know at least one of my potential descent routes. The route looked okay on the map and the books suggested it was.

It was a long walk back up the hill through the forest, I was last here for Maol Lunndaidh last spring. Strangely, the red VW Golf which I keep seeing parked in forests hereabouts for hours on end, was near the top of the track. When I did my Coire lair recce last autumn, it was sat in the forest there and I was worried when it was still there hours later – it somehow looked like it had been there for days already. I soon reached the first 2-wire bridge over the river – there were two guys and two younger lads sat with full packs. I asked them where they were headed (hoping they were coming up my two hills so I wouldn’t be alone), but they were just heading to Bearnais Bothy.

I strode on, studying the corrie ‘route’ intently. The nearer I got, the worse it looked – it had a band of cragginess with a waterfall about halfway up but that looked possible. However, the nearer I got, the more vertical the final section of grass up to the col looked. By the time I reached the turn-off for the second wire bridge, I’d completely cancelled that idea.

When I reached the wire bridge, the river was so low I decided just to go across on the dry rocks sticking out and play on one of the bridges on the way back if I was in the mood to do so. I was soon heading up the stalkers’ track to Bealach Bhearnais – it was a good track and quickly and easily led to the bealach. However, I’d been studying photos of the west ridge of Sgurr Choinnich for ages and have always thought it looked dreadful so was worrying about it.

I reached the start of the ridge – it didn’t look too bad – maybe… I changed my film and took a quick photo of it and headed for the foot of the ridge. Pretty soon you are faced with two small crag bands. The first wasn’t scrambly at all, the second was a definite scramble up but was pretty easy and each step up was flat-topped and roomy. I wondered whether I’d be okay coming back down it if I had to and decided I probably would. It was then just steep and grassy until much further up when there was a really easy clamber up a little mossy gully in another rock band. This looked like it was avoidable on the left on grass anyway but was too easy even for me to miss out.

Not too long after this, I reached the start of the fairly flat ridge to the summit. The wind by now had picked up and was blowing across the ridge, which always puts me off. The ridge looked fairly narrow with a big drop on the left, but the right-hand side was just very steep grass so I decided it was okay and I should just keep calm and continue. After one shortish narrow ridge, there was a short ascent to the equally narrow summit ridge and a very narrow ‘tower’ cairn – very neat but I’m sure it will blow down onto someone’s head in the next south-westerly gale!

Still feeling nervous – now about the descent to the col, which again had looked horrid in photos – I quickly touched the cairn and continued along the ridge to where it started the drop down. I held my breath, crossed my fingers and looked over the edge – actually, it looked fine. A little path headed off down the slabby edge and I set off down it. Soon after, it turned into a scree path and headed more easterly away from the edge but that didn’t look such a good option so I continued down the slabby rocks. Pretty soon I saw others had done the same as another, more sketchy path, materialised.

I kept going very carefully and was soon on the col. I’d been checking my watch and was around and hour and a half ahead of the ‘book time’ which I found surprising, considering my caution. While I was on the col, I took a look down to the left at the supposed ‘route’ down the corrie – it looked lethal to me! There was no way I was going down there! I wished it could be more like the other side of the col which was an extremely easy, grassy slope – but that only leads to the Loch Monar wilderness.

I looked up at the route onto Sgurr a’ Chaorachain – it looked okay, although a bit narrower and rocky towards the top. I looked back up at where I’d come down and it looked horrid! I was really amazed it had been so easy to descend. Bearing that in mind, I set off up the Chaorachain ridge. It was fine but the wind was getting stronger and more problematic so I was glad to finally reach the summit plateau of the peak and the, more or less immediate, cairn shelter.


Looking back at descent from Sgurr Choinnich

I was still worrying about my route down now I’d cancelled the idea of the corrie descent and had also decided firmly against the steep NW descent off the northern ridge – that also looked like a grass cliff to me. I had in mind that I’d follow the northern ridge round to the north-east and right down to its terminus not far from Glenuaig Lodge and its cute bothy/hut. But I hadn’t seen the ridge for a year now and somehow imagined it would have suddenly become monstrous while I’d been away – such is the fertile imagination of mountain cowards unfortunately.

I wanted to take in Bidean an Eoin Deirg so decided my nerves about the descent would just have to go on hold while I rushed along the easy ridge to the top. It was a pleasant walk and took less than half an hour to reach the pretty peaked top.

This, to my mind, was the nicest part of the walk really and well worth the small effort. I still didn’t feel like taking a break though as I was still feeling nervous. I really would have preferred company for these two and had been mentally cursing the fact that noone else was on the mountains at all today, despite the fact that there’d been 10 cars in the carpark when I’d arrived. Maybe part of my nervousness was due to tiredness as I’d had a pretty hard week really for my level of fitness. I have to say my fitness had improved dramatically by the end of the week though!


Heading back from Bidean an Eoin Dearg to Chaorachain

I zoomed straight back to the summit of Chaorachain where, joy of joys, there was a chappie sat in the shelter! I stopped at last for a quick coffee and a welcome chat. He’d come from Maol Lunndaidh which he’d walked with two other guys but he was continuing across these two peaks alone. He hadn’t seen anyone else either and we wondered where all the folks from the cars had gone? He’d set off at 8am (as opposed to my usual 10am) and all the cars were already parked up then. We assumed they must all have gone to Sheasgaich.

He then set off for Choinnich and I headed off north down my ridge. At last I could see it was a very gentle ridge, just like the map said, and there weren’t going to be any problems after all. For the first time in the whole walk, I relaxed. I mused about the walk over the two hills and how I’d got into such a state (as I often do) when actually, there had been no problems at all! I still don’t know the answer to that one but I’m sure it stems from walking alone so much in strange territory.


Bidean an Eoin Dearg from descent ridge

The ridge was great until lower down where it got less defined and more boggy. I just headed off down the side to the Glenuaig track. It seemed quite a long walk back along the track and it was by now quite hot. I only stopped once more – at the second wire bridge. I had to have a go on it really as I haven’t done a 2-wire bridge before. I had a quick play on it and then sat and had another coffee on the river bank – I was starting to get thirsty by now.

Then I headed off back past the red Golf to my waiting Polo. When I got back to my accommodation and a nice shower in the really posh bathroom I’d dubbed ‘The Playboy Mansion bathroom’, I found I’d collected two ticks this time. One was on my thigh and easily despatched – the other was between my shoulder and my neck and, while I could see it was there, I couldn’t get it out myself. I had to call downstairs to the guy who owned the holiday cottage and, even though he’d never set eyes on me before, ask him if he could remove a tick from my shoulder. He said his eyesight wasn’t sharp enough (neither is mine really) so he had to call his friend – a guy who frequented the hotel bar and seemed both eccentric and shy of strange women! He looked fairly uncomfortable but duly trekked off for some tweezers and set about digging the unwelcome visitor out of my shoulder – I think he got it all out! I’d have bought him a drink that evening in the bar as a thanks but he stayed away.

Stats: 18.5 miles, 4125 feet of ascent, 7 hours 30 mins
Tick count: 2 😦

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